• “When you push off from the dock … we’re all in the same boat. 
    This isn’t about cancer anymore. It’s about exercise and health and the rest of your life. 
    When we push off we’re paddling away from breast cancer.” 

    - Dr. Don McKenzie, Founder, Abreast In A Boat 
  • “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain!” 

    - Vivian Greene 
  • “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” 

    - T.H. Thompson & John Watson 
  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. 
    The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’ 

    - Nelson Mandela 
Behind the Cape Grace Hotel, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town
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Belles Stories » Jenny Heunis

Jenny Heunis

I was 34 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis almost did not happen. When I visited the gynaecologist in April 2000 I was told by him that all women my age have lumpy breasts. At that stage I could not put my arm next to my body when I lay in the bath because of the mass in my breast. I taught at a High School in Cape Town where the staff was always fighting and my job was terribly negative and draining.

Reassured that all was well I moved on with my life. As an Ex Western Province swimmer and biathlete, my health has always been my top priority. I was swimming with Brian Button three times a week and going to gym on a regular basis.

In December 2000 after taking a group of students on a hike at Gordons Bay I noticed that my left nipple was inverted. My neighbour is a Professor of Gynaecology and Obstetrics and I asked her what she thought. She directed me to Constantiaberg Clinic. The Doctor was quite businesslike. He took a biopsy and told me to wait three days – the longest of my life. He then called me in and told me the results were negative, but that he disagreed, and that I had breast cancer. The pathologists said I was too young for breast cancer. The next stage was a cross-section of my breast. This was done under local anaesthetic as the doctor said he would have to do a mastectomy. I kept thinking and praying that the pathologists were right. – I was too YOUNG to have breast cancer. The doctor phoned me the next day to confirm that I had breast cancer. It was a surreal experience; I kind of floated around as though I was in slow motion. The doctor said he would do a mastectomy in the New Year – I said no I wanted it NOW and on the 20 December I went in. The tumour was 6 cm and all my nodes under my arm were infected – which meant that the cancer had spread.

I then had to have 6 sessions of chemo. I was lucky that the school that I worked at arranged a terms leave for me. I soon realized that although I wanted to know what was happening to my body, I did not want to know or hear negative things. I soon lost my hair which initially was scary and this prompted me to see a therapist and after four sessions I was fine and my sense of humour had returned. I suffered extreme fatigue and everything tasted yuk after chemo. I had the most amazing collection of beanies and bandanas. When I went back to school I impressed my students each day with them.

Then I had to face being ‘micro waved’ by radiation 25 sessions of chemo – 5 weeks. The nurses in the oncology department were angels and their help and love throughout the whole process was phenomenal.

In December 2001 I had reconstructive surgery. I had the TRAMFLAP operation. This is where your stomach forms a new breast. I had a 7 hour op and came out with a flat tummy and a new breast. I could wear flimsy tops again!

In December 2003 after a routine check up, a very small tumour was picked up in my right breast. Thank goodness I did not have to have chemo again. I had my second mastectomy and immediate reconstruction done. I pride myself in never being sick from work and all three of my operations have been in the school holidays.

My humour, my faith and the immeasurable support from my mother, my sister and her family and my gynaecologist neighbour Zephne are my core survival pillars. Without these people, without their love and care, I would never have made it. My little dachshund – Lotti – who since has had to be put down – stuck by my side throughout the nausea with chemo and the burns from radiation.

My entire life has changed because of this cancer. I am stronger, calmer, more centred, my sense of humour has surfaced, I distance myself from negative people and I am more positive. I have faced real things, spoken in front of groups, spoken on the radio, done a 5 day cycle trip through the Swartberg Pass (Retha Olivier did the cycle trip as well), learnt more about who I am and what I am capable of.

I go regularly for my check ups and each time is a stressful time.

My doctor told me when I was diagnosed that he had seen people in my situation both live and die. I chose to live. And it is a good life.